By Kaja Rakušček (Kobarid)
Leave No Trace is Debra Granik’s rendition of Peter Rock’s novel which tells a captivating tale of a changing relationship between the father (Ben Foster) and the daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) who are living off-grid in a public park outside Portland. We observe them in different settings and with various kinds of people and perceive how their relationship changes. As we follow up on their daily tasks in their camp, we start noticing they mainly talk by using sounds (humming, tongue clicking…) and are shown to understand each other without words. Everything turns upside down after Tom is spotted by a jogger, which leads to the authorities accusing them of trespassing. They are forcefully relocated to the Christmas tree farm where they get food and accommodation in exchange for working for the owner.
They collectively decide to cooperate and offer each other support they need, despite wondering how they are going to adapt to the new living conditions they have been put in. The distinction between the character’s personalities is clearly seen here as Tom grows very enthusiastic about exploring new things and shows interest in connecting with other people, while Will’s PTSD starts acting up again, which makes it hard for him to form more meaningful bonds with people other than his daughter. His trigger is the helicopters which move Christmas trees on a farm where he works at, which causes him to deny human contact even more. Here is where they seemingly start to slightly drift apart; Tom feels it would be easier if they adapted, but despite her urges, her father is still hesitant to give it a try.
One morning, Tom is woken by her father telling her to pack her things and that’s when their relationship starts to crumble even more. She follows him reluctantly, annoyed and visibly unwilling. After Will’s near-death due to falling down a steep hill, they are taken to the trailer park by its residents. While her father is getting better, Tom is exploring the community and starting to establish relationships with the locals.
At this point, it seems like the roles of the teacher and the student have reversed because she starts to teach her dad what she has learned from other residents. She visibly matures, but he still seems to be overwhelmed by social interaction. As she finds her father packing to run away again, she expresses rage and distress since she doesn’t feel the same way as he does. Explaining that she likes the community, stability and feeling of belonging it brings, she refuses to run away again, despite feeling at home only where her dad is.
When they leave nevertheless, we observe her suddenly stop walking. With tears in her eyes, Tom tells him she understands he would stay if he could. We see him pondering, thinking and reconsidering his possibilities and what each of those would bring. They part with tears and hugs and he slowly disappears into the woods. The movie ends on an uncertain, but positive note, because we know she is still full of hope of him being around and watching over her.